perhaps Bill Johnson recklessly pursuing a downhill gold medal. Now, envision another ski champion -- Laura Oftedahl. She recently won two gold medals, in five-kilometer and 10-kilometer cross-country races.

Johnson and Oftedahl pursue different forms of skiing, and their paths to gold medals have been worlds apart. But there is another difference -- Oftedahl, of Alexandria, happens to be blind.

As an infant in Antioch, Ill., about 50 miles north of Chicago, her parents remember her constantly seeking the area of her crib where there was the most sunlight. That led them to suspect she had a vision problem. The problem turned out to be serious.

"I could see a little bit, but I had no useful vision," Oftedahl said. "It's nothing that can be corrected. Now, all I can really see is shadows of objects . . . not anything that can help me ski."

There are three classes of blindness. B1 is totally blind; B2 is low partially sighted, any vision less than 20/600; and B3 is high partially sighted, 20/200 to 20/600. Anyone who falls into these three categories is considered legally blind. Oftedahl is classified as a B2.

With the aid of a seeing guide, she won the 5K and 10K races at the National Blind Skiing Championships in Duluth, Minn., last month. Soon after, she was selected to represent the United States in the World Blind Skiing Championships.

Why skiing? "I'm a very competitive person, and I saw it as an opportunity to compete where I never had that chance before," she said.

"I went to a public high school. I could never belong to the volleyball team or the basketball team or the baseball team. And there was no swimming or bowling team, and those are two sports that I could have played.

"I got to like skiing because it's a good way to get out and enjoy the winter, the fresh smells, the air, birds, woods. I enjoy the environment."

After graduating from the University of Illinois, Oftedahl worked as a radio disc jockey in West Palm Beach, Fla., and in Beloit, Wis.

"Doing radio is sort of easy for a blind person," she said. "It's all oral, so to speak. The other things you have to do are fool with the tapes and listen for sound quality, neither of which was hard for me to do."

While in Beloit, she learned of a program that taught blind people to ski that "sounded interesting. I was looking for something to do," she said.

"Before I started skiing, I smoked, ate and just sat around the house. I never got outside. And I really enjoy the outdoors."

So, she started to ski. It was difficult at first, but she caught on quickly. Soon, Oftedahl was addicted.

But it isn't an easy activity. For a blind person to ski, there must be two sets of tracks, one for the sighted guide and one for the blind skier. "You need somebody sighted so you don't go skiing off a cliff. Most places have two sets, anyway.

"You have to make sure that you ski with someone who skis well enough not to worry about himself. He has to watch you, tell you where other people are on the course. Mostly, he has to be alert. If he forgets to say, 'Turn right,' " I can hit a tree."

Despite the tonic of skiing in the Great Lakes region, Oftedahl tired of a disc jockey's irregular hours and came to Washington in 1981 to work for the American Council of the Blind in its public relations department.

In 1982, she won her first national championship, a 5K race. "I didn't train a whole lot then. But I quit smoking the day before the national championship in '82. It was probably the best thing I ever did. Since then, because I've been successful, I train all year round."

Oftedahl runs and rides a tandem bicycle to stay in shape, but she despises running in Washington's summer heat. That's not the only thing about Washington that irks her.

"I like my job now. The only bad part about Washington is you can't ski. I find I'm spending all my time and money going other places to ski. I might just take a gamble and look for a job somewhere else.

"Probably the ultimate goal is to ski in the Olympics. We just found out that in Calgary in 1988, they're going to have blind skiing as a demonstration sport. I'll be training as hard as possible for that. It's really something to shoot for.

"Actually, what all of us blind athletes want is to be seen as actual athletes and not the fact that we're blind. Who knows? Maybe we'll be competing with the abled someday instead of on our own."